University Park, Pa. -- This summer, during every First-Year Testing, Consulting, and Advising Program (FTCAP) advising day at University Park, classroom instructors ask nearly 200 incoming students, “do you believe you are enrolled in the college that best fits your interests and goals?” Other questions each morning test and probe how well the new students understand general education requirements, scheduling classes, and choosing majors.
These kinds of questions are not new to FTCAP, but for the first time since Penn State’s orientation program began fifty years ago, measurable data are immediately available because all students now submit their answers via hand-held “clickers,” or student response systems.
“When we ask how many students completed their pre-FTCAP assignments,” said Hilleary Himes, senior undergraduate studies adviser in the Division of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) and a FTCAP instructor, “we know right away if the group as a whole has a sufficient knowledge base to continue or if many need to hear a quick review of some important points.”
“The clickers seem to get students interested and involved," said Jeff Gugino, also an academic adviser in the division and a FTCAP instructor. "They connect with the material better and jump into discussions more readily when they see how their responses fit with everyone else’s.”
Within seconds after students press their response choices, classroom instructors can see — and display on a classroom screen — results in the form of bar graphs that show percentages of “yes,” “no,” or multiple-choice answers.
This kind of instant feedback helps instructors like Himes and Gugino gauge student opinions and their understanding of key concepts.
“We can back up and repeat or modify some information, if we need to,” Gugino said.
The clicker experience also gives new students a comfortable and anonymous way to interact, see how their answers compare to those of their peers, and get familiar with a type of technology that most will use in future classes. Incorporating clicker use in FTCAP additionally helps students meet those around them.
“The clicker questions often spark conversations during breaks and team exercises and can lead to new friendships before the semester even begins. That’s a nice bonus," Himes said.
On loan from the University Faculty Senate, the 200 clickers in use this summer represent an innovative collaboration between the Senate and the Division of Undergraduate Studies, PennState’s FTCAP provider.
Clicker technology is relatively new to the faculty senate, too.
“Prior to adopting the clickers two years ago, senators voted by voice,” said Susan Youtz, executive secretary of the University Faculty Senate. “If the ayes and nays were of equal volume, we then had a ‘division of the assembly,’ where senators were asked to stand for an aye or nay vote.”
The process of standing to vote was time consuming and often required recounts to prevent errors, Youtz recalled, however using the clicker system has alleviated that problem. She added that the Senate was pleased to support FTCAP’s request for assistance this summer, because it is important to share resources whenever possible, especially in these challenging economic times.
Utilizing the clicker response system has made a positive difference in University Faculty Senate voting procedures, just as it is enhancing Penn State’s FTCAP advising day for thousands of incoming first-year students.
The Division of Undergraduate Studies traces its origins to the 1930s, but in 1973 the University Faculty Senate recommended the division’s official creation to improve enrollment and advising programs for students and to establish a University-wide academic information and advising system. Today DUS is the University’s largest unit of enrollment for first-year students and the academic home for many others preparing to enter a college or major.